Earlier this year, I talked about how Disney's animated output doesn't have that "event status" anymore and what they could do to bring it back...
This year, Disney's very questionable marketing department proved how inept they can be with the studio's upcoming Frozen. Aside from a cute throwaway teaser that obviously wasn't meant to really hype it up, the marketing team hasn't given this film or Disney's own animated output much of an identity. They had the perfect opportunity to do so with this film, with the success of Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph behind them, but they blew it.
Frozen's sole theatrical trailer (if another one comes, it'll be nice, but...) makes the film look like - as many have said - "Tangled on Ice" or better yet, every other animated film that's playing or opening soon. I'm more than tired of the new approach to marketing animated films, where the focus is on the comedy. Yes, I know, adults seem to only embrace "warm" and "funny" animation... But we need to find ways to make them embrace animation in general. Some films coming out in 2015 look to do that, that is if they are marketed correctly!
But that's not the point, the point is, Disney needs to market Walt Disney Animation Studios film as... Well... Walt Disney Animation Studios films. The attempt to break any studio confusion with the "From the creators of Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph" headings is not going to help. They need to create a new identity now that everyone else has excelled in the family-friendly animation market.
Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph certainly didn't feel Disney-esque from the marketing, the former's campaign was way too cynical and Shrek-like while the other relied on the video game jokes and the comedy in general, rather than immersing us in Ralph's story or the different video game worlds. Nope, "Hero's Doody" is what sells, not Ralph's dissatisfaction or the worlds he discovers on his journey.
Secondly, stop with this "Disney" branding. Disney is a corporation, yes, and it's okay to put just "Disney" on a box for a toy or some kind of consumer product, but... When presenting films, why in the world did you have to get rid of Walt Disney Pictures Presents? The last I saw of the name in print was on the posters for The Princess and the Frog, and as far as home video covers go, the Blu-ray and DVD of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were the last to say "Walt Disney". (This was the end of that phase where Disney removed the 's from Walt Disney's on their video covers of the Walt films.)
Then in 2011, they got rid of the "Walt" and "Pictures" in the film logo itself. Everything from The Muppets and onwards opens with a logo that just says "Disney". Sorry, no defense there. It just seems so bland and corporate... Walt Disney Pictures has such a cinematic feel to it, take that away and you're left with something so... Shallow. I know Disney is a corporation, but I want to separate that fact from when I watch one of their films. I don't know, Walt Disney Pictures just complete it for me. Not only in the films, but on the posters and video covers.
But the biggest thing that is preventing Walt Disney Animation Studios from having an identity outside of their films is the suits' paranoia over young boys. You know how much I hate their fear of what young boys want to see in theaters.
Disney brass... Boys aren't your target demographic! Kids aren't your target demographic!
Who is your target demographic?
Play to everyone, families, kids, adults, moviegoers... You'll get a big success on your hands, it's not freakin' rocket science! By trying too hard to appeal to boys, you alienate the adults who will make your films more successful than they are. You also come off as sexist, and you also make young girls feel left out. What is this? A boys-only treehouse? This is Disney, something everyone deserves to experience.
Also, if you treat Disney animation as a treehouse for boys that doesn't allow girls... Then you're limiting your audience. Teens and adults don't want to go into a boys treehouse, because that's kids' stuff. Is Disney animation kids' stuff? No. Need I remind the suits about beloved films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast??? Good thing those weren't made today, they probably would've done decent business at best.
This obsession with pleasing one minor chunk of their audience all stems from The Princess and the Frog. Disney's newly-hired staff came on board when that film was released, and those "geniuses" failed to realize that Frog's campaign was lame (Even I thought it looked terrible back then!) and that the film had other pre-release baggage. But in corporation fashion, the suits and marketing are never wrong... It's obviously the fault of the film, or the title. *proceeds to bang head against the wall*
Now I will be seeing the film, and all future Walt Disney Animation Studios films, because I'm a fan of Disney and I'm not a casual moviegoer. I'm an animation aficionado and a Disney nutcase. Is a lot of America like me or other animation fans? No.
Frozen's campaign has only lead to extreme skepticism. Many are doubting that this film can be good or anything decent, and a lot of people are up in arms over the character designs thanks to what a lead animators stated recently, people are angry about the revisions to the original tale (hello, Disney does this!) and people are also mad because it seems too much like Tangled. See Disney, you probably lost a good chunk of potential moviegoers. Even some animation fans aren't willing to see it, and this campaign probably is the reason. People go by marketing, not what they imagine about the film. It's a yay or nay decision when it comes to viewing the trailer in theaters, and it determines the opening weekend at the box office - and if your opening weekend gross isn't up to snuff, then you're deemed dead on arrival.
I fear that if Frozen does not meet expectations (I still think it's going to do well, since Tangled's awful marketing campaign still worked to some degree - but if that film had better marketing, it probably would've opened with a lot more than $60 million), then Disney will make another dumb assumption like "People don't like fairy tales" or "Fairy tales are old-fashioned". Disney was convinced that Tangled wouldn't do well based on how Princess and the Frog performed, and they were quick to say "no more fairy tales". I can only thank goodness that Wreck-It Ralph was not only profitable, but a hit that audiences really liked. Imagine if that didn't do well? *shudder*
Luckily, Disney has Giants coming. Not saying Frozen will underperform, but if it does, then that 2016 release would be a sort of test to see if audiences reject fairy tales or not. If anything, Disney should be asking, "What can we do to make audiences care about Anna and Elsa? We don't want this to go over badly" not "Do audiences like fairy tales anymore?" Why don't they consider how Disney anything would go over in the 1990s? Audiences had no hesitation showing up for The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, because both looked great and people were rediscovering Disney - something they had missed. Audiences also didn't hesitate to see the Arabian Nights-flavored Aladdin or the all-animal Shakespearian The Lion King. Even Disney was a bit worried about that one at the time, but look! People flocked to see! It's one of Disney's most popular films!
Why? Because it looked great. Make it look great, and when people realize how good the movie is, the word of mouth spreads and BOOM! Success! The marketing seemed to forget that when they compiled the trailers and designed the posters for Tangled and Frozen. I'd say Wreck-It Ralph is their only success, but barely, because the second trailer wallows in animated trailer formula a little too much. If anything, Disney's marketing department succeeds in the viral department. Now they are great there!
I absolutely loved Toy Story 3's viral campaign, which played directly to college-aged folk and teenagers so that the trailers and TV spots did not have to. (For the record, Toy Story 3's final domestic trailer was bad.) It also had quirky little things, like the 80s-styled Lots-O-Huggin' Bear ad, the Japanese Lotso ad and other things. Wreck-It Ralph's campaign had those super cool advertisements for Litwak's, arcade flyers and some cute fun stuff like the Fix-It Felix hammer advertisement. Now that's smart viral marketing.
But the sad thing is, they excel at this but not at doing the real marketing: The trailers, the posters and the TV spots. Maybe Disney needs a top wing of people that'll handle that stuff, and let the current marketing people do the viral stuff. That would be great, but will Disney do this? Probably not.
If this happened, then they could approach the films the way the 90s marketing team approached films like Beauty and the Beast. Look at these posters...
The first poster is appealing to adults. It makes the film look like a grand event, something they should go see - regardless of whether they have children or not. I've read about how Beauty and the Beast was promoted as a "date film", well I can believe that because Disney did do this for some re-releases at the time (late 1980s), such as Sleeping Beauty. That re-release did pretty well! Give the adults a reason to go by themselves and see it, they'll go see it!
Now the second poster is definitely kiddie. Its color scheme is very bright and saturated, it's definitely nothing like the film's color scheme! Everyone's all happy and chipper, there's heavy emphasis on the comic relief and side characters. Where's the Beast? Oh he's brooding in the clouds, but that's in the far background.
Now look at that! Now this is not a perfect trailer by any means, but it at least gives you a good idea of what the story is, the editing isn't slip-shod, they make room for both comedy and the other aspects (points off for showing the mob trying to get into the castle), plus it pleases both adults and kids. It makes the film look good to both. Oh, and it has *gasp* SONGS! Yes, that's right! This film has songs in it! Oh yeah that's right, it's a Disney movie. Tangled and Frozen's marketing went to great lengths to hide the musical numbers, with the exception of this year's D23, since the people running D23 know that the fans are present.
Also, notice anything else?
Disney's 30th full-length animated motion picture? The canon numbers don't matter anymore, do they? When Tangled came out, Walt Disney Animation Studios put out this awesome "50 Classics" montage... Why wasn't that in the trailers? Or a teaser?
Dozens of all new Disney characters? Disney characters in the 1990s were treated as one big family, and Disney would act as if new faces like Belle, Beast, Aladdin, Jasmine, Simba, etc. were new to the Disney family. "The Disney family grew even larger with new friends like Ariel, Flounder and Scuttle..." said announcer Mark Eliot on the Beauty and the Beast behind-the-scenes first look from mid-1991. (This appears on the 1991 VHS of The Jungle Book.)
Featuring 6 new songs from the composers and lyricists of The Little Mermaid? Yes, remember when songs mattered? Not to mention the people who crafted the songs?
What happened to announcers? Now we get quick text saying quick things. "She's Been Grounded... Like... Forever!" Jokes dominate, the story takes a backseat to pretty much everything and... Ugh...
These things that gave Disney an identity are gone, it's time for them to come back. It's time for Disney marketing to give Disney animation its own identity - in turn, they'll entice many fans, adults and other people to see their films in droves.